Rigging local elections in Nigeria: Where next?

By Tonnie Iredia  

One failed aspect of democracy in Nigeria is the conduct of elections into the country’s 774 local government councils. In most cases, the contests are handled by electoral commissions that are usually made up of cronies of the ruling party who are brought on board to ensure that their party` ‘sweeps’ the polls. Consequently, our local areas have remained undeveloped because persons that can evolve and implement viable socio-economic projects, are usually displaced through election chicanery.

Painfully, there are no visible prospects in the horizon to suggest that the trend might change soon. This completely reverses the goal of establishing a third tier of government which by virtue of its closeness to the grassroots should best meet the immediate needs of the locals. Based on this, whenever an election is fixed to hold in any local government area in the country, the expectation is that it would be rigged in favour of the ruling party.   Many have thus been taken aback by the decision of the outgoing Osun State Government to, in the guise of holding an election, instal its puppets as others do across the nation. Already, the chairman of the state electoral commission, Otunba Olusegun Oladuntan has announced October 15, 2022 for the contest across the state.

Surprisingly, his team seems to be going ahead with arrangements for the exercise not withstanding a case in court against it. As expected, the two leading political parties, the All Progressives Congress APC and the Peoples Democratic Party PDP are for and against the proposed elections respectively. While the latter alleges that the outgoing ruling APC is bent on holding the election at the eve of its departure so as to install those who can cover-up its alleged corrupt activities, the APC says for as long as governor Gboyega Oyetola’s tenure has not ended, his government has a legal right to hold local elections.  

But why did Oyetola not organize any local election until the last few weeks of his tenure? Why can’t he focus on proper handing-over notes to his successor instead of starting a fresh event at the 24th hour? Is the outgoing government unaware of the legal position that when a matter is pending in court, a notice of such matter acts as a stay of any action that may prejudice the matter in court? An objective answer to these questions would support the point that the government is anxious to empower its lackeys as alleged. Again, why is the PDP so bothered about an election that an electoral commission described as independent is proposing to conduct? While the PDP is skeptical about the performance of a tainted electoral body, would she herself not have done what the APC is about to do? If the truth must be told, the PDP only wants the election pushed forward to when her own Ademola Adeleke assumes office so that the PDP can magically ‘sweep’ the polls at that point.  

To understand the underlining theory that all ruling political parties are experts in rigging local elections, a review of the situation in Benue state would illuminate the subject. In 2017, when Governor Samuel Ortom was in the APC, his party swept the local elections held in the state. Although John Tsuwa who was chairman of the Benue state electoral commission could not convince people that the results he announced were not cooked-up, he did declare that the APC won ALL the 23 chairmanship seats as well as ALL the councillorship positions contested. However, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties CNPP insisted that no local election took place anywhere in Benue on Saturday, June 03, 2017 for which landslide victories were announced. Some three years later, that is, May 2020 another local election took place.

This time around, the Peoples Democratic Party, to which Governor Ortom had defected won all the 23 chairmanship and 276 councillorship positions.   In seeking to underscore the unwholesome behavior of the political class at elections, it is important to note that the situation in Benue represents what happens in many other locations nationwide. In Ebonyi and Taraba states, the ruling PDP similarly swept the polls. The All Progressives Congress, APC also scored 100 percent in the elections held in states controlled by her. In Kogi state for example, the party reportedly won all the 21 chairmanship and 239 councillorship positions in the local government elections held in December 2020. 

In Jigawa state, the same APC was declared winner of all the 27 chairmanship positions in the State in the election held in 2021. But the PDP was allowed to take hold of just one ward – Kiyako, in Birninkudu local government area which happens to be the Ward of the PDP former governor of the state, Alhaji Sule Lamido. Even at that, voters in the area reportedly held the electoral officials hostage to stop them from changing the outcome of the results. All the other 286 councillorship positions were cleared by the ruling APC. The use of fake elections is not the only strategy political parties employ to emasculate the local government system. Quite often, elections are not held at all; instead, the ruling party merely appoints caretaker committees to manage the system in breach of the constitutional provision for local government councils to be democratically elected.

In Cross River state, it was an endless waiting game. Although the state electoral commission headed by Mike Ushien collected non-refundable deposits of N200,000 and N100,000 from chairmanship and councillorship candidates respectively for the election fixed for June 2017, no contest took place and monies were not refunded to the candidates. So, can anyone blame those who have no faith in local elections? Indeed, the fear of the PDP about the hurried attempt to organize an election in Osun state on the eve of the departure of Gboyega Oyetola who only realized the need for a local government election after he lost his reelection bid is not irrational. If the election holds on October 15, 2022 as proposed, the next rigging will most likely happen in Osun state.  

Another state which needs to be watched is Edo, where the state electoral commission is set to hold local government elections on January 14, 2023. With the tenure of governor Godwin Obaseki still beyond one full year to go, we cannot accuse him of the same hidden agenda that appears to be playing out in Osun. Besides, Obaseki’s consummate appetite for the use of technology can thwart any rigging plans in his state. But considering that many politicians around the governor are products of the “cut-for- me- cut-for-me” political culture in the state ingenious politicians in the ruling party may still use their ingenuity to adversely interfere with the proposed January 15, 2023 contest.

Here, one can recall that some years back when the officially endorsed candidate could not win the Esan North East chairmanship election, the contest had to be put off twice. When it eventually held and all relevant stakeholders were awaiting the collation of votes at Eguare Primary School Uromi – the designated centre, results against the run of play were announced from the seat of power in Benin, over 100 kilometres away.   The point that must be made is that it is time to end fake local elections in Nigeria.

Accordingly, all well-meaning citizens should prevail on governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun state to concentrate on his election petition and discard the hurriedly arranged local elections fixed for October 15, 2022. At the same time, we call on governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo state to make it difficult for any of his overzealous aides to push the state electoral commission into any ignoble role during the proposed January 14, 2023 local elections in the state. It is also important to remind all politicians that by virtue of the new Electoral Act 2022 the procedure regulating elections conducted by INEC to Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory now apply with equal force and sanctions as the procedure regulating elections conducted to Local Government Areas by any state electoral commission. August 21, 2022

Prof Tonnie Iredia  

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